Giving It Back
Sometimes it's tempting to take what isn't ours. In this week's Torah portion we learn what a person needs to do if he took something he shouldn't have, and how to set things right.
In our story, a kid learns how to face his mistake - and face himself.
FINDING THE KEY
"Wow, Gary! Where did you get that monster padlock? It looks like it could stop an elephant!" asked Josh, his eyes glued onto the gleaming chrome lock dangling off his buddy's bike.
"Yeah, it's a real professional model," the boy smirked. "And the best part is that it didn't cost me a cent."
"It didn't?! Somebody gave it to you?" Josh asked, not quite understanding.
"Well, you could say that. If you promise not to tell, I'll let you in on the secret and how you can get one too."
Josh, now curious as anything, nodded as Gary went on.
"Right outside the school supply room, they just got a big delivery of stuff, including a bunch of these cool locks. So I just strolled by and 'helped myself' to one of them before they got put away. And so can you - if you hurry."
"But, how did you just take it like that?"
"I just did - that's all. Listen Josh - no sermons and no squealing - you promised. They'll never miss it and anyway, it's not like it was anybody's or anything. It was public property, and, hey, I'm part of the public! So don't be a loser - go get yours before the supply runs out. That is, if you've got the guts."
With a wink, Gary dashed off on his bike. Josh could still see the padlock glimmering in the sun as he rode away.
He made it sound so easy, Josh thought to himself as his feet led him closer to the supply room - just to take a look. Not only did he make it sound easy, but he made it sound like it was okay too. At home, Josh's parents always made such a big deal about never taking what doesn't belong to you that he would never even think to do something like that - but Gary didn't seem bothered by that at all.
Josh reached the supply room and saw all the padlocks, just like Gary said. Boxes of stuff were all piled up and no one was around since school had just ended. Josh walked a little closer - just out of curiosity. There were those super locks, right on top, each with its own key. They looked so new and clean - and so easy to take...
Josh grabbed one and shoved it into his pocket and took off. He felt his heart pounding as he walked fast. The cold metal bulge in his pocket was digging into his thigh with each step. Only once Josh got safely down the block did he slow down enough to even think about how his hand had - almost on its own -dipped into the box of locks and grabbed one.
Good job! he told himself. You didn't get caught, and now you have a great new lock and the school - well they still have plenty left, don't they?
Josh got home and was about to hang the lock on his bike like Gary did, but somehow it didn't feel right. Then Josh caught his reflection in the lock's gleaming mirror-like chrome. 'Thief!' it seemed to be shouting at him. Josh realized what was bothering him. It didn't matter what excuses he had made, or what Gary had said to him, the lock was just plain stolen and he had stolen it - and that was dead wrong.
Josh suddenly felt really terrible about what he'd just done and wished he could somehow undo everything. Suddenly he had an idea...
As he walked back toward the school supply room, Josh was breathing hard. He got to the supply room and his heart sunk. Oh, no! The boxes were still in front of the door, but so was Ed, the mean custodian who'd come to put them away. It's not going to be easy to put the lock back without him noticing, thought Josh. If he sees me hanging around he might think I'm trying to take something and get me in trouble. Maybe I should just forget the whole thing? It's not worth the risk.
Josh turned around to leave, and then stopped. No! If I was willing to risk it to do something wrong, I have to be willing to risk it to do something right!
He waited for Ed to step into the supply room, and then Josh quickly walked up to the pile of boxes, flipped the lock out of his pocket and back to its rightful place.
Josh jumped, startled.
"No kids allowed around here now. Git!" barked Ed in his gruff voice.
"Sorry, no problem," Josh said, quickly turning on his heels - mission accomplished.
Josh was walking home feeling lighter than air when Gary cruised up to him on his bike and hand-braked with a smooth slide, stopping inches from Josh's feet.
"So did you have the guts to do it, man?" he asked with his usual smirk.
"Sure did!" The guts to put it BACK, that is, Josh thought to himself.
"So let's see the lock."
"Don't have one."
"I don't get it," said Gary.
"You sure don't Gary. Stealing - no matter what you call it - is never cool." And with that, Josh turned around and walked on home.
Q. How did Josh feel at first about taking the lock?
A. He felt it was okay since his classmate did it too.
Q. How did he feel about it in the end?
A. He felt guilty and realized that stealing is always wrong.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Josh learned from what happened?
A. He knew stealing was wrong but he let himself get swayed by Gary's excuses and attitude. In the end he made up for it - but it was hard. From now on he'll probably be stronger to listen to his own inner values of what's right and wrong and not let people convince him not to.
Q. Do you think Gary's reasons why it was okay to take the lock were valid? Why or why not?
A. No, they were all just excuses, although he may have convinced himself he was right. Sometimes a person can rationalize and tell himself that it's okay to be less than honest, but we have to be careful not to fall for it and know that to rationalize is to tell ourselves 'rational-lies.'
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that there is virtually no one alive who is entirely free of theft. What do you think this means?
A. While, thankfully few people are outright thieves, the Torah teaches us to be scrupulously honest in all that we do and gives us the tools to get there. If we look closely at our deeds with this goal in mind, it is easy to see how many little things that we write off as 'okay' are really not and are actually subtle forms of stealing - such as using things without permission, etc. Therefore, our sages' words are a call for us not to be complacent, but rather to always strive to grow into better and more honest people.
Q. What do you think a person should do if he recalls that he once took something he shouldn't, and now regrets it, but it's not possible or he feels too embarrassed or scared to tell the person he took from?
A. While direct restitution is the ideal, in such cases a person could give back or pay back the person anonymously through a third person, or by mail, etc. When none of that is possible, at least giving the equivalent amount to a worthy charity would be a proper thing to do, together with a firm commitment to oneself and to God, to act honestly in the future.